WWII in HD (review)

All my earlycolorimages posts today have been leading up to this: a remarkable DVD set from the History Channel called WWII in HD (in the U.K.: WWII: Lost Films). But the name is a little misleading. These 10 45-minute episodes aren’t just in HD: they’re in color. Hardly anyone even knew most of this footage existed, and it is amazing to see. We haven’t seen the war like this before, ever. But the History Channel didn’t just string together these astounding images, though that probably would have been good enough. Instead, the stories of 12 Americans are told in a deftly woven narrative that uses the color footage (somehow miraculously rejiggered into HD), the appearances by those people who survived the war, and voice performances — by actors including Josh Lucas, LL Cool J, Justin Bartha, Steve Zahn, Jason Ritter, Rob Corrdry, Ron Livingston, Amy Smart, Rob Lowe; Gary Sinise narrates — for the rest. A New York farmboy who’d never even been on a train before who is among the very first draftees… an Austrian Jewish immigrant who escaped Hitler thinking he’d go to Hollywood and joins up instead… a Time-Life war correspondent… an army nurse… We see the war through their eyes, and we see it more like how they would have seen it. There is gruesome stuff here — the Nazis hanging and shooting Serbian resisters in 1939; Japanese civilians committing suicide in Saipan by jumping off a cliff rather than surrendering to Allied forces; the aftermath of battles, dead and mutilated bodies strewn on the ground. It is all chilling in its immediacy, especially the moments we thnk we’re familar with: here is an NFL football game on the radio interrupted with news flash of Pearl Harbor attack, followed by color footage of aftermath of that attack. Here is the liberation of a German concentration camp, in moving, living color. It’s all totally riveting, a deeply humbling reminder of the sacrifices of our grandparents and the horrors of the war.

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